Protein is one of the three macro-nutrients our bodies need, which also includes carbs and fat. Is too much protein a thing? It’s interesting that the first low-carb diet known as the Stillman Diet (1967) was high-protein. Today low-carb diets like the Keto diet are trending but you don’t see too many high-protein diets. The reason is that the old expression “too much of a good thing” is true. For example, if you’ve wondered can protein turn into fat the body often turns extra protein as stored fat. Besides that, consuming too much protein can also cause other health issues like digestion problems.
There are several food sources of protein. The most common ones are animal-based foods like meat, eggs, and dairy. However, you can also find plant-based sources of protein like beans and peas. So, if you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet you have alternatives to beef, chicken, and fish. The amount of protein you should get from different diets can vary greatly. For example, it’s about one-quarter of total calories on the Keto Diet. However, Atkins allows unlimited protein, and low-protein diets are a thing for people with kidney disease. The big question is: what happens on a high-protein diet?
What Exactly Is Protein?
We know that meats and beans have lots of protein and it helps to build muscles. However, what exactly is this macro-nutrient? This is one of the “macronutrients” that also include fat and carbs.
Proteins are made up of things called amino acids. There are 20 amino acids and 9 of them are “essential.” This means we have to get them from food like meat, eggs, and beans.
Human cells require protein so they can grow/develop and also fix themselves. You can consume protein from several kinds of foods including:
It’s important to get protein from different foods. For example, different meats have different amino acids so it’s healthy to eat a small amount of red meat like pork, beef, and venison.
The human body needs proteins to make lots of stuff like hormones and enzymes. It’s also critical for things in the body like blood, skin, cartilage, muscles, and bones. These are all important for helping the body to work like a fine-tuned machine.
Fun Fact: The body doesn’t store protein like it does carbs and fats. Does this mean you should eat cheeseburgers, boiled eggs, and green beans all day?
Health experts explain that many people are getting more protein than they need. The main issue in the modern world isn’t the amount of protein but instead the quality. In other words, people aren’t eating enough clean/lean protein.
If you want to build lean muscle mass you should also boost your protein somewhat. That said, you should also get enough good carbs for energy and healthy fats for heart health and healthy hair/skin/nails.
You should be getting about 0.8g of protein for each kg of body weight. There are other factors like age, gender, and physical activity. Make sure to do the math so you’re getting enough protein.
Can Protein Turn into Fat?
The short answer is: yes. Here are some of the possible health issues caused by consuming too much protein:
Studies show that boosting protein can also reduce your body’s water level. When you consume water/fluids this removes nitrogen and can cause you to be dehydrated. However, research has produced mixed results about high-protein diets and dehydration.
2. Calcium loss
When you eat a high-protein diet it might result in calcium loss. That, in turn, can cause problems like weaker bones and osteoporosis. More research is needed in this area though. A 2103 review of multiple studies showed it’s unclear if there’s a link. However, some studies show a link between high-protein and low-calcium.
3. Digestion problems
Too much protein can cause constipation or diarrhea. The problem is high-protein diets are often low-carb, and thus low-fiber.
On the other extreme if you’re eating a diet of low-fiber, high-dairy, and lots of processed food this can trigger LBM. It’s more likely if you eat fried chicken/fish or are lactose intolerant.
4. Kidney problems
Some studies show that high-protein diets can cause kidney-related issues. It might also cause problems for people who already have kidney disease.
This is from the extra nitrogen in proteins’ amino acids. Kidneys that are damaged work overtime to rid the body of extra waste/nitrogen when processing protein. Various studies show that these are indeed possible results of diets high in protein.
5. Weight gain/obesity
You might see online claims of diet programs that a high-protein diet can help achieve weight loss. Here’s the problem. It can achieve that goal but it might be short-term.
The problem with extra protein is usually it becomes stored fat. When your body gives off too many amino acids this can cause long-term weight loss. Another problem is high-protein diets can result in high-calorie diets, and thus weight gain/obesity.
Top Less-known High-Protein Foods
1. Brussels Sprouts
These “little cabbages” are one of those foods to rediscover after hating them during childhood. It’s broccoli’s cousin and is high in lots of nutrients like Vitamin C and fiber. One cup provides 4g of protein.
Flax and chia seeds have been trending in recent years. Don’t forget some old-school favorites like pumpkin and sesame. They’re loaded with nutrients like zinc and magnesium, and iron in pumpkin seeds.
3. Greek yogurt
This is from the original and modern Mediterranean Diet. It’s a thick yogurt that’s full of several nutrients. Protein makes up about half of the fermented dairy’s total calories. It’s also low-calorie so it won’t wreck your diet if you’re counting calories.
Shrimp, crabs, and oysters are a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also low-calorie so a better option than pork and beef in that department.
Fun Fact: Oatmeal is naturally gluten-free. This whole grain is full of several nutrients besides protein. They include Vitamin B1, manganese, and magnesium. It’s also pro-digestion with tons of dietary fiber. If you want to get the most nutrients from oatmeal buy the quick-cook variety and enjoy it raw.
This seed is a superfood that’s been trending recently as an alternative to gluten grains like wheat and barley. What’s the big deal? This cereal-like food is high in lots of good stuff like vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.
This is one of the most popular tree nuts along with cashews and walnuts. Almonds offer a wide range of nutrients like magnesium, manganese, and Vitamin E. You can also improve digestion since it’s high-fiber.
Almond flour is a popular ingredient for low-carb baking. There’s even an almond meal with ground-up skins that you can use in moderation after learning can protein turn into fat.